Saga of Soul
At the Tokyo Tower, Downfall, still in human form, recognized Murder as he approached. The elysian had discarded his trademark dark clothes and top hat, but had kept the same physical form.
"<All right, Murder. You wanted to talk. Now speak your piece.>"
"<Why, Downfall, it is not so complicated. I believe we may have some common goals.>" Murder answered in a language not of our world.
"<Is that so? My goal is to bring suffering and destruction into this world for the glory of Endless Ravage. Your goal...>"
"<...is to travel the multiverse, meet interesting people, and kill them. I do believe my reputation precedes me.>"
"<I don't exactly see how that makes us allies. It's a good thing you killed all those humans back there, but it doesn't help me.>"
"<Right, you have your political considerations beyond your ideological ones. However, it is not our primary goals I was referring to.>"
"<Explain yourself already.>"
"<The multiverse is a huge hunting ground for me. Things to do, people to kill, enjoyment to be had. But there are those who would ruin it for me if they had their way. So many worlds have already been lost to me - worlds where I can barely show my face without the Elysium sending its troops after me, or worse yet, worlds that Mother Aurora prevents me from entering at all. Even the Council of Wisdom can be bothersome.>"
"<But that would mean...>" Downfall suddenly began laughing. "<To you, us demons are the lesser evil!>"
"<You could say that. From my perspective, it is vital that Mother Aurora does not seize this world. It would be irremediably lost to me.>"
"<Seize this world?>"
"<Why, yes. That has been her modus operandi as of late: Find recently linked worlds, have non-fairy agents locate the local Extension, then kill the Extension. Following that, she can do as she pleases in those worlds... and as you may imagine, she ensures magic is never used again.>"
Downfall digested Murder's words. "<Killing the Extensions. She's really powerful enough to do that?>"
"<Absolutely. Oh, I do not say she does it easily, but she has done it several times.>"
"<So...Mother Aurora succeeding is the worst-case scenario for us.>"
"<Indeed. This world would be lost to us... I'd have one less playground, and Endless Ravage would get bumped all the way back to Hell's waiting list. How many decades - or centuries - before you got a world to handle again?>"
Downfall slammed his fist against his palm. "<I will not allow that to happen.>"
Murder grinned. "<See? I told you we had some common goals.>"
"<Fine, I see your point. But this brings the next question: How do we stop Mother Aurora?>"
"<I am glad you asked.>" The grin got wider. "<Mother Aurora's greatest disadvantage is the fairies' inability to enter this world. She may be powerful enough to easily open portals between worlds - an ability most demons and elysians would kill for - but she has few agents to send through those portals. She's forced to work through non-fairy agents, like that Soul girl. Speaking of which, do you think Soul was a local?>"
"<I assumed she was>", said Downfall. "<I suppose she could have been imported by Aurora.>"
"<No matter. My point is, she doesn't have quite as many agents as she'd like. Keep killing her agents, and she'll be all but helpless. Makes me wonder if Soul survived.>"
"<Survived?>" Downfall didn't even think to hide his surprise. "<Didn't you just kill her?>"
"<Oh, I stabbed her in some vital organs to be certain, but she did manage to teleport away rather quickly. If she made it to a pocket dimension accessible to Aurora, she may still be alive.>"
"<Interesting.>" There was a hint of a grin on the demon's face. "<And we can draw out any other agents through carnage.>"
"<No, I'm afraid that will be insufficient.>" Murder rubbed his chin nonchalantly. "<It drew out Soul, but, if she died or dies later on, Mother Aurora will be certain to find more... cold-hearted agents, who will be willing to stand by and let the carnage happen. Keep in mind, Mother Aurora is trying to save the entire multiverse; what are a few thousand humans next to that?>"
"<Then if I may ask,>" Downfall crossed his arms and stared straight at Murder, "<why are you trying to stop her?>"
"<The multiverse... is going to be annihilated eventually, no matter what I, Aurora, or anyone else does. I've accepted it; death is what I do, after all. I simply intend to live as I want on the way there.>"
"<Well, I can't fault that worldview. But how do we eliminate Aurora's agents?>"
"<Why, we hit Aurora where it hurts: Magic.>" Murder looked down on the city sprawling beneath them. "<Her entire operation aims at preventing the harmful use of magic. Spread magic to those who would use it irresponsibly, and she will have her agents seek you out.
And then you kill them. Or have your minions kill them.>"
Downfall pondered for a moment. "<Find corruptible humans... Teach them magic... Make them my followers. Yeeeees, that could work... Numerous Hellish factions have used strategies of this kind.>"
"<There you go. But, I take it you're not too experienced at dealing with humans?>"
Downfall bristled. "<I'll let you know Endless Ravage chose me for this mission!>"
"<So, no, then. Well, allow me to offer you a small advantage:
Mortals are easily impressed with material possessions. Show them you own something extraordinary, and they shall be far more receptive to your words, hoping to lay their hands on it themselves. With that in mind...>" he lifted his golden knife "<...you may borrow this.>"
Downfall's eyes almost jumped out of their sockets. "<Is... Is that...>"
"<Yes. I will be taking it back soon enough, so be certain to make good use of it. Oh, and in case you're wondering... It cannot open gates between worlds unless I will it too. Even so, it remains a potent artifact. Use it well.>"
"<Oh, I intend to... ally.>"
"<Glad to hear it. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some plans of my own to attend to...>"
As Murder walked away, he shot one last glance at Downfall, who was admiring the golden knife. He smirked to himself. Idiot.
My name is Watanabe Eriko. I'm a thirteen-year-old magical girl, and I've had a bad day.
It started out with me being depressed by a plot twist I hated in a show I'd been watching. That seems humorously insignificant after getting stabbed almost to death by a mass-murdering lunatic with a fashion sense straight out of the 19th century. Not that I really feel like laughing.
Some of the things Murder said were... disturbing. Not just the part about Mother Aurora hiring him to kill magic-users like me... There was also the part about her making his knife. If it's true, and if she's capable of acting on Earth, why does she need me as an agent at all? She's not only far more knowledgeable on this whole magic business than me, she's also ludicrously powerful.
Then again, for all I know, maybe Murder was just bullshitting me. I'll have to ask her next time.
Mom's just glad that Junko and me are safe and sound (boy, if she only knew...). When we got home, I just went to my room - well, the room I share with Junko - and tried to recover from it all.
Dad seemed a bit disturbed when he got back from work. More so than the day Downfall attacked. Then we went to watch the news.
It's... different. This time, they showed actual footage - you can -see- Murder killing people like some sick circus performance, then me showing up, the fight... Even the part where he stabs me. God, it's disturbing to watch.
They actually got sound this time. Does my voice sound like that when I'm Soul? Well, they got our names from bits of conversation, anyway.
They say... They say there were a lot more casualties this time. 215 dead so far, and many more injured, some of them critically. Was I even useful? Is this kind of stuff going to be happening regularly now?
They've released footage of my fight with Downfall. Guess they're not scared of showing it anymore. Looking at it now, Downfall actually seems less threatening than Murder. Still wouldn't want to fight him again, though.
Wait. They're also talking about -another- incident? An explosion that killed 3 and injured more in a different neighborhood. They have footage from a security camera... And it... looks... like... my plasma blast.
Son of a bitch. That son of a bitch used his portals to redirect my blast into another part of the city! When I redirect attacks, I aim far above the ocean, where the odds of hitting anyone are virtually nil! Son. Of. A. Bitch.
Mr Watanabe was shaken out of his contemplations by his daughter's call. "<Yes, Eriko?>"
"<What do you... What do you think about this? All of this?>"
He took a moment to think his answer through. "<It's complicated, Eriko. I don't think anybody really knows what those things were.>"
I do. But if I told you, you'd probably have a seizure.
"<Whatever those Downfall and Murder really were, they clearly didn't care for human life,>" her father went on. "<Unfortunately, there have always been and always will be people like that. But usually, they don't have these strange powers. But both Downfall and Murder were fought by Soul, so, whatever those powers are, those who have them don't form a unified faction.>"
"<And we have Soul to protect us!>" Junko chirped in with seeming cheerfulness.
"<Hopefully you're right about that>" said Mr Watanabe.
That caught Eriko's attention. "Hopefully"? Waiiiit... "<What do you mean?>"
"<Well, the enemy of our enemy isn't always our friend. We know Soul fought those... terrorists, and we know she did it right after they attacked the population, and it could mean she's acting out of a desire to protect us, but we don't know that. For that matter, we don't know for sure she's survived that second fight.>"
Junko was about to protest, but chose to stay quiet. So did Eriko, processing the information.
"<The lab confirmed it,>" said Hiromasa, "<the explosion at the battleground was dynamite. The one in the mall, however, reminded them of what they analyzed after the Downfall incident - they think it was super-hot plasma.>"
"<And the timing checks out>" said Hyosuke. "<The mall explosion happens at practically the same moment Soul blasts Murder, and he absorbs it with that thing. I guess she was shooting him with plasma, and he redirected it with that window he opened in the air.>"
"<Weird how the media are only now going into frenzy about it. The politicians are still going all 'no comment', but the news won't stop showing footage of both fights.>"
Hyosuke closed his eyes and sighed. "<Lightning doesn't strike twice.>"
"<Beg your pardon?>"
"<This is a bit before both our times, but... when the Americans dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, the government and military didn't know what to make of it at first. They had never even heard of nukes before; nothing quite like the Hiroshima explosion had ever happened until then. They weren't even sure if it was the Americans, or an unknown natural phenomenon.
Then came Nagasaki. That's when they surrendered.
It's the same thing here. When Downfall came, the media were paralyzed with indecisiveness, because nothing like it had ever happened before. Now that it's happened again, they understand they can't ignore it anymore. Expect to have to deal with a lot of crap from reporters trying to grill us for more info.>"
"<What should we tell them? Just 'no comment'?>"
"<For now, yes. Telling them anything more wouldn't help the investigation. Oh, and call Professor Maru to confirm our meeting.>"
The older inspector then resumed watching a clip of Murder projecting dozens of blades at the public. Rewind. Watch. Rewind. Watch.
"<Sir? Are you looking for something specific?>"
"<I was... trying to figure this guy out. Also, compare him to Downfall.>"
"<Anything so far?>"
"<A few things. The picture is a bit distant, so it's hard to be certain, but... I've been watching Murder's expression as he kills everyone. He looks blissed, but also focused. I'd wager it's not the first time he does something like this - if anything, he looked experienced. Both during the massacre and the fight, he always looked like he knew exactly what he was doing. Downfall, on the other end, seemed... Well, maybe not quite berserk, but definitely less calm and controlled. If human psychology even applies to these guys, then I'd peg Murder as the psychopath and Downfall as the borderline psychotic.>"
Hiromasa nodded. "<But if he's done this before... Where? Areas in the third world? I don't think anyone reported anything like it.>"
"<No, and I already asked Interpol. They mentioned a recent wave of knife-murders in Seattle, which might be linked to this guy, but nothing on the level of our incident. However...>"
"<...Consider: We have not one, not two, but three beings, one of them not looking like anything known on Earth, displaying powers unlike anything we understand. I'm going to at least consider the possibility that they're not from our planet.>"
"<You mean... aliens?>"
"<It's a possibility.>" He resumed watching the clips. "<Another thing... Neither Downfall nor Soul seemed like particularly experienced fighters. Soul seemed completely out of her element in the first fight. But Murder... Murder looked like a pro.>"
Katsutoshi sighed as he read yet another file from the research his mother's team had been conducting.
Near-death experiences. Neurology. Psychic powers. Reincarnation. Religious miracles. Even philosophical studies on the nature of consciousness, not to mention theoretical papers about the physical feasibility of time travel.
And so much of it was disappointing.
Psychic powers were all bunk. Miracles, reincarnation... unproven at best, disproven at worst. Philosophy, neurology... Some ideas that might be intellectually interesting, but nothing useful. Time-travel might be possible in theory, but in practice, it was at best not viable.
Really, the only venue that wasn't completely disappointing was NDEs - it seemed to indicate (though not prove) that, to the very least, there was something amiss there to investigate. Steel-Sama was apparently considering research into the matter - by forcing NDEs upon test subjects.
Once again, Katsutoshi felt slightly amused at the situation - his mother, the all-business, no-nonsense Steel-Sama, investigating what so many people would dismiss as utter nonsense. It was no wonder she went to great effort to keep this research secret - people could get the wrong idea if they knew, and that'd be bad for business.
Of course, that would be little more than the result of gross misunderstandings. He knew Steel-Sama was not superstitious in the least. He was fairly certain she had not undertaken any of this research expecting it to yield anything of value.
He knew why she'd gone through with it anyway, though. When Steel-Sama set herself a goal, nothing would stop her - and even the most improbable road to success would be investigated, if nothing better was available.
So, all things considered, it was really no wonder she was investigating these recent events. And with the Murder incident the media couldn't shut up about, it was looking like she had been right... as usual.
His phone rang - Nanae, one of his classmates. He was exasperated, but let none of it show as he picked it up and answered.
"<Hello, my dear. Katsutoshi speaking.>"
She giggled. "<Hiiii. How's my white prince doing?>"
Such an annoying moron. "<Quite well, sweet princess. What avails me the delight of your voice?>"
"<Weeeeeell... I was wondering if you were available this afternoon. I was feeling like going to the ice skating rink, but I don't want to go all alone...>"
You've got six friends I can think of off the top of my head that you could ask to come with you. Transparent excuse. "<Why, I'd love to! Come get you at 5?>"
A happy squeal. "<Sure! See you then!>"
"<Gladly, princess.>" Sheesh. He didn't think highly of Nanae, or a number of girls like her in his school. Vapid, ditzy, superficial losers. So long as you look good and say pretty words, wrapping them around your finger is like shooting fish in a barrel. In truth, though, he didn't mind the upcoming date so much - for all of his contempt for her, Nanae would help him relax a little. The only thing he'd need to worry about would be striking a balance in his attitude - be cold enough that she didn't think he had accepted her as something special, yet warm enough that she kept believing she had a chance.
Shouldn't be too hard.
"Tell me your opinion about Murder."
Harris didn't even blink. After years of working for Steel-Sama, her directness didn't really faze him anymore. "Well, he's obviously a psycho. Feels like he's from another century - I mean, top hats and knives? It's actually kinda quaint, in a deranged way.
I thought at first he reminded me of hitmen, but that's not quite it. Hitmen are... Well, I don't think they enjoy their job as much as he does. He reminds me of this thug I knew - a creepy guy who, whenever he mugged people, seemed to do it less for the money than for the violence. Murder seems like he just loves doing this stuff, and he seemed to enjoy the fight with Soul even more - especially when he finally nailed her."
"In other words, he loves killing."
"That's my best guess."
"Agreed. There is more to it, though." She fell silent for a moment.
Harris didn't say a word, waiting for his icy boss to speak. He nervously began fidgeting with a pen, then noticed and quietly stopped.
Having ordered her thoughts, she went on: "He was acting with clear purpose. Both he and Downfall engaged in mass murder, but the approach was different. Downfall was trying to cause as much damage as possible. Murder picked a spot from where he could see anyone coming, then just started killing people, not moving from his elevated spot, glancing in every direction, waiting for someone to come. He did not appear surprised in the least by Soul's arrival - on the contrary, he was prepared for it. There is a very high probability that drawing her out was a more primary goal than the enjoyment of the carnage itself."
"What about the knives that were found all over the neighborhood? You said they had been placed there on purpose."
"They were. Their positioning was clearly intended to cover the area - they cannot be explained simply as a result of the fight, which was far too localized. As for their purpose, more information concerning Murder's powers may be required to deduce it - but it probably had to do with the recorded flash of light. Additionally, when one places objects in such a manner, the goal is usually to cover an area either for the purpose of surveillance or because you need to affect a large area somehow."
"So... The knives were bugs? Or they did something to the neighborhood?"
"Likely. As no global effect was observed, I estimate that the second possibility has a low likelihood - about 10%. It is more likely that they were somehow used as detectors, in which case the flash may have been either a signal in reaction to what they were supposed to detect, or an effect designed to do something to the detected element. As Murder actually interrupted his fight after the flash, whatever they detected must have been of even greater importance to him than killing Soul."
"Oh. What could that have been?"
"There is not enough information to deduce that. Additionally, by this point I am operating on several successive speculations; to go further would be unwise." She remained silent again for several seconds before resuming: "On two occasions, Soul has come to fight dangerous opponents that were killing civilians. It is likely that the protection of human life is one of her main goals. It should also be noted that, despite her human DNA, she survived a deadly attack by Downfall, and had healed completely by the time Murder showed up. There is a possibility to consider that she cannot be killed. In fact, that would help explain her willingness to face opponents such as Murder and Downfall."
"She... She's immortal?"
"Given how little we know of her abilities, the possibility exists.
Another observation is that, while Soul appeared to be out of her element, and Downfall didn't use his abilities efficiently, Murder appeared to be in control of the situation at all time. It is likely that he possesses more useful information than the other two."
"All right... But, it's not like we can call his phone number and start asking questions."
"No. However, we will pursue what leads are available to us.
Thankfully, we already have a meeting with Mr Kahara coming up."
"<Well, now that foreign networks have started showing the footage, the noise is really starting to pick up>" Eriko told Junko as she looked at yet another webpage full of discussion and speculation. "<I've found a twelve page discussion of the physics of what happened. Twelve pages, and those guys only have minimal information. Some people think we're aliens, at least one guy claimed Japan was making the whole thing up, TVTropes is citing us as a Real-Life Example of 'Tokyo is the Center of the Universe', another guy says it's the start of the Christian Apocalypse, and soul dot com is getting tens of thousands of visits.>"
"<That's kinda cool. You're a celebrity now!>"
"<Joy oh joy.>" Celebrity had not exactly been one of Eriko's priorities in life.
Leaning back in her chair, she finally had enough. "<Ah, screw this. All this crap is only stressing me out more. I need to relax, or this save-the-world thing will drive me insane.>"
"<We can continue watching 'Sailor Moon'. Or...>"
"<Nah. I mean, I enjoyed the way they handled the Moonlight Knight thing, but I think I need a break from magical girls.>"
Of course, Junko kicked herself mentally. She almost died again from this. She needs something different. "<Well... How about a shonen anime? Tomo lent me a DVD of 'History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi', and she said it was really funny.>"
"<Does it have any fighting?>"
"<...It's about martial arts.>"
"<Think I'll pass, then. Not in the mood.>"
Crap. "Then, then, I have another one 'Host Club'. It's a shojo, but not maho shojo, and it's hilarious, and...>"
"<I know!>" Eriko interrupted her tirade. "<I'll play go a bit. I haven't played online in forever.>" She then noticed the contrite expression Junko was valiantly trying to hide. Ah, dammit. What she really wanted was for us to do something together. "<But let's watch a couple episodes first.>"
Though he often tried to shed it, Professor Maru had a reputation as an eccentric. A physicist who specialized in quantum mechanics and dabbled in astrophysics, he had often been noted for his tendency to "go beyond the known and then speculate further". In other words, he dealt in theoretical physics.
It was Hyosuke's hope that he might provide a lead in order to understand the forces at work.
"<I've read all the data from the police labs. Very, very interesting.>" The professor tried not to show it, but he was delighted to have these two policemen come and consult him on this very important matter to the very least, it meant he was being taken seriously. "<The wide range of highly unusual phenomena... Any single one of them would be fascinating on its own, really.>"
"<That's all nice and well, Professor,>" said Hyosuke, "<but what do you make of it?>"
"<Well, let's start with the matter creation. The anvils, the copper wire, the blades... I was wondering at first if they were creating them or just bringing them from elsewhere. But, the abnormal purity of the material, as well the objects' perfect geometric shapes, clearly suggest that they weren't made in a normal manner. I'm leaning toward creation... and that's very interesting. It's generally agreed that nothing is ever truly destroyed or created, just transformed.>"
"<Could they have transformed something into the objects? The air, even?>"
"<I'm not too sure about that. Obviously, Soul can't just have turned the air around her into iron anvils the difference in density is four orders of magnitude. I guess she could have been bringing in iron atoms from all over the world and linking them together, but that seems... ridiculously complicated.
The alternative, however, is that she created the matter herself. And that opens up other questions. Inspector, do you know how much energy is required to create the amount of mass involved?>"
"<Honestly, Professor, I don't have any idea.>"
Maru nodded. "<Far, far more energy than that of a thermonuclear explosion, inspector.>"
Hiromasa dropped the pen he had been fidgeting with. "<T... That much?>"
"<Absolutely. E=mc² and all that.
Buuuut... I don't think Soul actually controls that much energy. Her blasts, her attacks... All of those showed energy levels more comparable to conventional explosives. If she had enough energy to create the matter, she'd have had enough energy to blow up Tokyo... and her attacks on Murder and Downfall just didn't seem that powerful. So my guess is, she isn't using energy to create matter... She's creating the matter out of nothing. Which makes me wonder if it's a quantum effect...>"
"<A what?>" Hyosuke was taking notes at the same time he was recording the conversation. He liked being thorough.
"<A quantum effect. In physics, we have this thing called virtual particles particles that pop into existence for the briefest of moments, then disappear again. Perhaps Soul and Murder can control this phenomenon, causing matter to blink into existence and stay there.>"
"<Has there been any research into this?>"
"<Virtual particles have been studied quite a lot, inspector... But a way of controlling them? That, as far as I can tell, had never been seriously brought up until today.
Now, the energy control some of them display is quite interesting on its own. Heating up the plasma they project, manipulating kinetic energy... Soul's flight seems to be a matter of giving herself bursts of it. At least, that's the only explanation I can think of that makes any sense. How she does it... Maybe virtual particles again.
No less interesting are the wormholes these people create.>"
"<Wormholes? You mean, the windows they make in the air?>"
"<The very same. You see, inspector... Einstein taught us that space could be twisted, warped. In fact, that's what gravity does. It has been calculated that black holes, with their infinite density, actually warp space to the point where tunnels form in it. Those 'wormholes' form a shortcut from one point to another possibly even portals to another time, or another universe altogether.>"
"<Does that... Does that mean they're using black holes...?>"
"<No, I don't think so. Black holes... Black holes would have had altogether different effects.
I've considered exotic matter. There are types of matter not found on Earth, whose existence is purely theoretical, which could warp space quite easily. Since it already looks like these people can create matter, I thought maybe they could also create exotic matter, thus creating the wormholes.>"
"<And that would explain it?>"
"<I thought so at first... But looking at the videos again, I decided it seemed unlikely.>"
"<Because... If those wormholes were created by exotic matter... then they would keep existing as long as the exotic matter was there. The wormholes seen in the fights, however... They seemed to exist only as long as their creators kept their focus on them. And like you've noted yourself, nobody ever had more than one portal open at any given moment, even when it would have been to their advantage to do so.
So, I'm guessing it's not exotic matter they can directly twist space, somehow. Maybe space, like virtual particles, obeys some probabilistic rules that they can somehow direct.
And now... The matter of their defense. Here, the example of the car that hit Soul is particularly interesting. It is one thing that Soul herself survived... But it could mean any number of things. What is more interesting, actually, is that the damage to the car itself seemed pretty limited as if it had hit Soul at a substantially lower speed than it really had. I've thought about it, and I think the likeliest explanation is as follows: Just like they can impart kinetic energy upon themselves in order to fly, they also impart kinetic energy on projectiles that hit them in order to slow them down. This would also explain why the bullets that hit Downfall were barely grazed, as if they had hit at far lower speeds than they should have.>"
"<That... would make sense, actually.>" said Hyosuke. "<But, Professor... With all due respect, it is not enough for us to have an idea of how their powers work. Do you have any idea how they could have obtained them, where they can come from... Anything that we can use?>"
Maru sighed. "<Well, I'll be honest with you: When it comes to the origin of these abilities, I only have the vaguest speculations. But as for the origin of their users... Personally, my money isn't on aliens from another planet.>"
"<Not really. The universe is... quite a lot bigger than most people realize. And these beings seem quite able to survive in our environment. No, I'm more inclined to believe that they come from parallel worlds.>"
"<There is a theory, in physics, stating that every time there are several different possibilities, the universe splits into one copy for each possibility. My bet, then, is that these individuals come from worlds that have split from our own some time ago from other 'Earths', so to speak.
Please note, however, that pretty much all of this is speculation. For all I know, maybe the physics at work involve something we're not even close to suspecting yet... And without a way of testing any hypothesis I emit on these powers, I can't really help you that much.>"
"<Why is everybody in such a huff over this visit? It's just a foreigner woman.>"
An older yakuza sighed at the novice's remark. "<Just a foreigner woman? You know nothing. It's Steel-Sama.>"
"<Everybody's saying that. Why is she such a big deal? What makes this Vitoria Steel so important?>"
"<It's 'Victoria'. And, call her Steel-Sama. Don't argue. It's not a good idea to argue with her.>"
"<You're making it sound like she's Orochi himself or something.>"
"<I'd sooner face Orochi. But since you obviously have no idea what we're dealing with...
Steel-Sama makes more money in a day than you will in your entire life. I don't know if she's a billionaire yet, but she has her fingers in several industries, in several countries. Everywhere she works, she makes sure to have political backing, as well as the support of mobs and clans but no-one will ever trace anything illegal back to her.
She came to Japan in her youth, for business. Got married to a... pretty shady guy. Not exactly a yakuza, but the police wanted him. After he married her? His problems with the law disappeared. And that was early in her career.
She had a kid poor guy. Husband died sometime later, and she went back to America, leaving the kid in a fancy school here. And by the way... Do you know the Hino clan?>"
"<The Hell you're talking about?>"
"<They were our rivals, years ago. Then they pissed her off. Less than two weeks later, they were all dead. All of them, killed in one stroke - the police still claims it was a gas leak. She even killed their families - and the police said it was all unrelated accidents.>"
"<She said she killed their families so that they wouldn't try to avenge them later on.>"
"<It was cleverly, carefully calculated. She planned it perfectly. I mean, can you imagine what it must have taken just to keep the media from making noise about it?
And then there's her right hand, Harris. He's a former con man who became her assistant as part of a plan to steal her money.>"
"<...Whaaaat? Doesn't she... know?>"
"<Of course she knows, dumbass. She found out long before he had a chance.>"
"<He was part of a team who were working on that plan. She forced him to betray the others, and they ended up in jail. Now he has to work for her if he leaves, she'll have not only the police on his ass, but also the underworld. Traitors don't live long, at least not without her protection.
I guess what I'm trying to say is... When Steel-Sama arrives, be polite, and avoid pissing her off until she's done talking to Mr. Kahara and leaves.>"
The younger yakuza gulped, looking a bit paler than before.
"<Steel-Sama. I am glad you agreed to this meeting.>"
Kahara Noboru considered the American woman. He had had to deal with Steel-Sama in the past, and she had made him uneasy then, too.
There was no denying that she was quite good at power games. She had managed to turn her little nickname into a powerful symbol... At times, he suspected that she used it as a constant reminder for people that they had to play by her rules. Or maybe he was reading too much into it.
Even now, as the traditional house staff served him tea, Steel and her assistant were being served coffee. He sighed internally.
"<We have a few matters to discuss,>" she said, "<But if your clan has any concerns about how quickly I can repay its favors, you may inform them that I have already ensured that your investments were placed where they will fetch substantial profits soon enough.>"
He forced an insincere smile. Typical. She repays -her- debt to us by taking -our- money hostage. Which was rather ingenious - if they cooperated, Steel-Sama's connections and business savvy would bring the clan hefty profits. If they crossed her, she could easily arrange for the entire investment to be lost, practically bankrupting the clan. The way she had made the offer days earlier, he had no way of refusing without offending her in public, and driving her to ally with any of several rival clans that would have jumped on the opportunity he had spurned.
"<We know better than to doubt your competence in financial matters. However... While I am glad to have you back in Tokyo...>" That was a lie. She was good for business, but bad for his nerves. "<...some of your recent requests simply won't do.>"
"<What is the problem?>"
Not even a blink. He tried to go on, explained the specifics... "<You have to understand, we're the Yakuza, not some Ameri... some Italian Mafia. We thrive on respect. We're a legitimate business.>" Almost. Kinda. "<Going around breaking knees on your account like this... There would be short-term benefits, yes, but we would be in hot water for a very long time.>"
"<I understand your concerns. However, I am working with important time constraints. If your people cannot take care of these tasks, I will need you to handle other matters for us.>"
"<We can negotiate.>"
"<There is a matter. In fact, you could probably handle it a lot faster than us... And it shouldn't embarrass your clan.>"
"<Good! Very good! Let's discuss that, then!>"
Not too long later, as Steel-Sama and Harris left, Kahara's second-in-command approached him. "<How did it go, sir?>"
Kahahara sighed, handing him several pictures. "<Spread the word. We need the entire underworld on the lookout; she wants these guys alive - or any information on them.>"
As his second-in-command hurried away with the pictures of Soul, Murder and Downfall, Kahara reflected, Her earlier, unreasonable requests were just there so she could ask for this instead.
Inside a rather unusual castle, a fairy was flying gracefully. The castle's architecture was wildly different from any that could be found on Earth for one, it clearly wasn't designed for people who couldn't fly. The fairy reflected, in passing, that while the castle was far from unpleasant, less effort had been spent on making it pretty and luxurious than she was used to.
Oh well. This place was still almost new. There'd be time for that.
In the huge room at the castle's center, she found the person she was looking for: Mother Aurora. Her queen.
Mother Aurora was a phenomenally powerful being. Her magic was generally considered a cosmic force. At the moment, she was focusing her energies on complex spells that armies of mortal wizards couldn't hope to cast.
So, same old, same old. She was used to this by now. "<I'm here, Mother Aurora. You called for me?>"
Aurora interrupted her work to look at the fairy in front of her. Long, straight golden hair. Multi-colored clothes (which would probably change again by the next month). An angelic face coupled with a mischievous smile. Butterfly wings as brightly colored as Aurora's, albeit smaller. "<Yes, Monsoon. This concerns the world we are currently working on.>"
"<Well duh.>" Monsoon rolled her eyes, smiling. "<That was kinda obvious.>"
Mother Aurora chose to ignore the flippant remark. "<Endless Ravage was enough of a problem on its own. Now that Murder is meddling too, I fear that Soul's life expectancy has taken a nosedive. I was wondering if sending additional agents would be wise at the moment.>"
"<I'd say... Yes and no.>"
"<Do please explain yourself.>"
"<Well, who would you send? Us fairies can't enter. Elysian agents... Well, you know how the Deathly Defenders worked out. Demons won't work for us. All we could send are mortals and constructs... And those would be all but useless.>"
"<They could search for the Extension, fight threats...>"
"<You know better than that. Best case scenario, a construct might be able to beat Downfall... Maybe. If Downfall didn't just portal away, which would be pretty easy. And having someone without magic look for the Extension would be a waste of time.>"
"<So what do you suggest, then?>"
"<That's where the 'yes' part comes in.>" Monsoon grinned. "<Send me.>"
"<You? But, you cannot enter this world...>"
"<I can enter Castle Nexus. I can talk to Soul, mentor her... leaving you more time to work here. After all, if this spell works, success is virtually guaranteed. Maybe not even virtually.>"
Mother Aurora pondered the idea for a while. "<You do have a talent for dealing with mortals. I shall consider it.>"
"<Good, but consider it fast. After the last time, it's probably best you talk to Soul soon...>"
My name is Junko, and I have now decided that I don't want to be a lab assistant when I grow up. At least, not in a chemistry lab. Gods, so. Many. Chemicals. And testing every single one of them.
"<I know it's less exciting than physics,>" Eriko talked as she handled one of the chemical samples, "<but I figured I had to at least explore it a little bit. Now we know I can create all 92 natural elements, as well as transuranian ones. I want to check that 'island of stability' theory, but, gotta be careful... I don't want to create something that could hurt us, either because it's toxic or radioactive. And that leaves theoretical molecules... I really need to look into theoretical chemistry.>"
"<Right.>" Don't be bored. Focus on a non-boring part. "<It's really cool that you can make gold.>" said Junko, looking at a bar of the precious metal.
"<It's a lot less expensive than rhodium, actually>" said Eriko, as she grabbed the corresponding silvery metal bar. "<But yeah, it is cool. Screw the Philosopher's Stone, I have matter generation!
Still, I'm gonna need to look into the island of stability. It is important scientific research...>"
I need to show interest. I mean, surely I can do that much for Eriko, right? "<Can you explain this 'island of stability' thing again?>"
"<Sure. Matter's made of atoms, and the different types of atoms make up the various elements, like iron, oxygen and uranium, right?>"
"<The lightest element in nature is hydrogen, and the heaviest is uranium, with some 90 more elements between them. That's 92 elements. But it's possible to make even heavier atoms... They just don't last that long. They're the transuranian elements. Several of them have been created by scientists over the years.
Now, the 'island of stability' theory states that there are some specific types of transuranian atoms that should actually be stable - I mean, they'd last longer. Since I can easily create matter, I figure I should experiment in creating them. Contribute to chemistry and all that.>"
That... sounds kinda understandable. "<OK, I get it. But what would those transu... trans... those special atoms do?>"
"<Honestly? I don't know. Finding that out is half the point!>"
"<Oh. You're hoping to use them against Murder and the other bad guys?>"
"<Huh? No. I mean, it'd be cool if it turned out that way, but I don't think they'll be useful for that.>"
"<Oh. Then what will they be useful for?>"
"<Eh... I'm not going to say 'nothing', since you never know, but it's entirely possible they'll have no application whatsoever.>"
"<Wait, what? Then why do you want to create them?>"
Eriko looked at Junko as if she'd just suggested replacing the fire department with Bavarian gold-plated tamagotchis. "<Huh? What do you mean? I want to do it for science!>"
"<OK, I get it.>" I don't get it.There suddenly was a pink glow. "<Interesting as that may be, can you really spare the time for such theoretical work? Would your time not be better spent on more applied, and urgent matters, child?>"
The girls looked up as Mother Aurora hovered in. Eriko stammered, "<I, ah, I see what you mean, but this is still important...>"
"<Perhaps. Though I would argue it is of lesser import than the fate of the world we are seeking to protect.>"
"<Uh, yeah, about that... I was hoping you had advice for next time Murder showed up...>"
"<Indeed I do. It is the very same advice I have previously given you.>"
"<But... I...>" Eriko gnashed her teeth, finally deciding to let it go for now. "<Never mind. Actually, there's a ton of questions I wanted to ask you.>"
"<You are always free to ask. However, do remember that, as I have said, there are things man was not meant to know, and that as such, I may choose to withhold certain answers.>"
"<All right. Well, first of all... Murder said he was an elysian. What does that mean, exactly?>"
"<There are three categories of spirits in our multiverse. Fairies, demons, and elysians. The fairies seek to preserve the multiverse, demons seek to harm it, and elysians... Elysians are by nature a greedy lot. Some seek power and prestige within elysian society; Murder simply seeks the joy that killing provides him.>"
"<But... What does 'spirit' even mean? Where do they come from? What...>"
"<...I fear that this is not information that you require. I understand your curiosity, but these are sensible matters.>"
"<...Fine. But you have to answer the next question:Murder said that you originally contacted him and made him that super-duper magical knife of his. He said that you wanted him to kill magicians across the multiverse. Is it true?>"
Mother Aurora seemed to collect her thoughts for a couple of seconds before answering. "<There is truth to it. You need to understand, child, that magic is not simply a wondrous thing of marvelous applications. There are those in the multiverse whose misuse of magic threatens the very existence of all worlds. All life could be extinguished and lost forever if no-one stops said misuse.
As such, centuries ago, I set out to stop those who thus threatened reality. Being a fairy, I was limited in my ability to travel between worlds; therefore, I set out to recruit non-fairy agents, and give them artifacts that would allow them to travel the multiverse, seeking out and neutralizing dangerous wizards. Those Deathly Defenders may very well have saved existence itself, but one among them went insane, and took the moniker of Murder.>"
"<That's all very interesting, but I was referring to the part where the knife you made works in this world, when you said fairy magic doesn't work here.>"
"<So, which is it? If you made the knife, then how...?>"
"<There is an extremely powerful block on fairies and fairy magic. However, I am no less powerful myself.>" She paused for emphasis. "<If I so chose, I could enter your world. However, I would need to constantly use my full abilities struggling to remain there, and would as such be unable to accomplish much of anything.
The golden knife was designed to bypass the block. Its magic was compounded with spells designed to deceive the blocking spells. Alas, such magic is monumentally complex and powerful, even for me; the knife required over a year of work to create.>""<All right... I suppose that makes sense.>"
"<Now, if you are done with your questions, there remains work to be done. You need further practice if you are to defend this world...>"
"<Question about that, actually. You say I need to defend the world, but you don't want me to fight Murder, because he's out of my league. So, who or what am I supposed to defend the world against? Just Downfall? Or are there more villains out there?>"
"<Downfall himself is no small threat, as you are most likely aware. Alas, he is not alone - other demons are bound to follow in his wake. There are also certain forces in the multiverse that, if they discover your world, are bound to attempt to seize it. Lastly, other humans from this very world may become capable magic-users in the very same way you did, and some of them may use it for less than noble purpose.>"
"<Oh joy. Honestly, are you sure it's a good idea for me to handle it all by myself? Shouldn't I be trying to find allies, tell the authorities, get help from the army...>"
"<No. This would be inadvisable. The less people know about magic, the better.>"
"<You can't expect me to protect the world forever! I almost got killed twice in the last few weeks - if we're going to have a big crisis every week-end, I'll be dead long before the year is over! This isn't Sailor Moon!>"
Ignoring the reference, Mother Aurora replied calmly: "<I do not expect you to do this forever, child. Know that this is not the first world that I set to save, nor shall it be the last. Trust that I have a long-term plan that will eventually make this world safe from the depredations of malevolent magic-users... However, until that plan can be implemented, I shall need you to be this world's protector.>"
"<All right, all right. I just hope you know what you're doing.>"
Junko, meanwhile, watched the entire conversation wordlessly.
My name is Junko, and I'm the best friend of a magical girl. I just don't think I'm very good at it.
I mean... Granted, Osaka Naru wasn't that much help to Sailor Moon either... But she had the excuse of not knowing her best friend was saving the world every week. I, on the other hand, -know- that Eriko's fighting those horrible monsters. I'm trying to help her out, but, other than helping cover her for her parents, I can't really seem to do much.
...It's worth asking.
As Eriko practiced the latest magic lesson of Mother Aurora, Junko timidly approached the Fairy Queen.
Junko was normally a pretty extroverted person. Perhaps less so in the Watanabe household, but in general, nobody would have called her timid.
She nevertheless found herself tongue-tied as she tried to speak to Mother Aurora. The Fairy Queen, however, was quick to notice.
"<Is there anything you need, child?>"
"<I... I was wondering...>"
"<Speak up, little one.>"
"<...Could you make me a magical girl?>"
"<Beg your pardon?>"
"<Eriko... Soul... She shouldn't have to face those things on her own. I owe her a debt... If I had magic too, I could help her. I know I'm not very smart, or very brave, or very special, but, but, I want to help her...>"
"<Enough.>" Aurora hadn't raised her voice, but her tone was nevertheless enough to silence Junko instantly. "<Noble as it may be for you to desire assisting your friend, this is completely out of the question. Even putting aside the dangers inherent in obtaining magic, this is simply not acceptable.>"
"<Magic is a very dangerous tool, not to be put in anyone's hands. Soul has obtained it; fine enough. I will not, however, help anyone else get it. The consequences could be disastrous, even with the best of intentions.>"
Seeing Junko about to attempt to reply, she made a silencing gesture. "<This is not negotiable. You may, and should, support Soul in every way available to you. Magic, however, is not one such way.>"
Later that day, as Eriko and Junko both lay in bed, they discussed some of the day's events.
"<It's just frustrating. I respect Mother Aurora and all, but I wish she'd tell me what's going on. What's the big idea with 'things man was not meant to know' anyway?>"
"<I'm sure she has her reasons...>"
"<Maybe, but it's still frustrating. And you know she listens in...>"
"<Well, yeah. She heard us talking about my research, even though her pink glow only appeared afterward.>"
"<Oh. I hadn't thought of that.>"
"<You have to read between the lines, I guess. The way she keeps talking about a 'multi-verse' makes me wonder what other worlds are out there... And did you notice? Originally, she told us fairies couldn't enter our world. From what she said today, it sounds like it's not just this one...>"
In a shady Tokyo alley, a yakuza was returning from an errand. Dammit, getting late... Won't even have time for anything tonight...
He stopped dead in his tracks when he noticed something... Or rather, someone. Someone dressed all in black, with a top hat, and a face that seemed familiar, even in the dim light.
Cautious, unbelieving, the criminal came closer. The clothes, the face... They all matched the photos Mr Kahara had provided them all.
The hatted individual was looking at him with a hint of amusement.
"<Are you... Murder?>"
"<Allow me to answer through demonstration.>"
He pulled a knife seemingly out of nowhere. The yakuza reached for his gun, but, before his fingers even touched it, the knife had already been thrown. Or rather, it had been flicked; it flew a lot faster than it should have, and hit some guy a block away straight in the throat.
Murder looked at him, his amused smile more pronounced. "<I believe this ought to answer your question.>"
Sweating, scared out of his mind, the yakuza drew his gun and aimed it at Murder, shouting. "<Don't move! Don't move, motherfucker! You're coming with me, you hear it?!>"
Still smiling, Murder lifted his hands. "<I surrender.>"
"Hm. Aurora really was trying to be as tight-lipped as she could."
"Well, yeah. Pretty annoying, really."
"But she didn't know at the time just how much trouble this planet would be."
"I don't think she had a clue, no. Between Endless Ravage, the Elysium, and every other jerkass in the multiverse..."
"I imagine I must rank rather high on this list."
"I'd say no, but, it's not exactly like I'm here because of the pleasant conversation or excellent room-service, now is it?"